Ethiopia has reportedly banned all flights over its giant new hydropower Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) being built on a tributary of the River Nile for security reasons, the head of its civil aviation authority said on Monday, reported The BBC.
The announcement was made as the Ethiopian president pledged the dam would begin generating power in the next 12 months. Ethiopia sees the $4.8bn hydropower dam as crucial for its economic growth.
But the controversial Nile dam has led to bitter disputes with Egypt and Sudan, both of which are downstream and fear the large dam will greatly reduce their access to water. The three countries failed to strike a deal on the operation of the dam before Ethiopia began filling the reservoir behind the dam in July.
“All flights have been banned to secure the dam,” Wesenyeleh Hunegnaw, the director-general of the Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority, told Reuters. He declined to give more details on the reasons.
In a speech to parliament on Monday, Ethiopia’s President Sahle-Work Zewde said the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will start generating power with the two turbines this year. She also said that work was underway to enable a second filling of the dam within the next 12 months.
Last month, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed told the United Nations that the country has no intention of harming Sudan and Egypt with the dam. The statement came just days after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi reiterated his concerns over the project.
The United States has also decided to cut $100 million in aid to Ethiopia amid the dispute over the dam. An unnamed U.S. State Department official said at the time that the decision to stop some funding to Ethiopia was triggered by concern over Ethiopia’s unilateral decision to start filling the dam before an agreement.